Daily Press Briefing
March 7, 2014
Index for Today's Briefing
- MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
- Jordanian Role in the Peace Process
- Pivotal Point in Negotiations / Framework Agreement
- Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas' Meetings with President Obama
- U.S. Position on Israel as a Jewish State
- Final Status Agreement
1:10 p.m. EST
QUESTION: — to talk about. So I’ll begin with – not with Ukraine, but with the Middle East, actually.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: So the Secretary was in Aqaba earlier today. As he was in Aqaba, WAFA, which is the Palestinian news – official Palestinian News Agency, was putting out comments made by President Abbas to a group of young Fatah people in which he said there was no way he’s ever going to accept a Jewish state and there’s no way that he – and he – there’s no way he’s ever going to accept a capital of an eventual Palestinian state on a piece of or a part of land in East Jerusalem.
Given the Secretary’s and now the President’s recent and upcoming involvement —
MS. PSAKI: Meeting, mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — on this issue, what does this say about the Palestinians on this side, but more broadly, both sides preparing their people for the kind of compromise that’s eventually going to be needed if you’re going to have a peace agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me say first that obviously, Jordan has played a historic and of course recent important role in the peace process, as we all know, and just as a reminder, the Secretary has engaged very closely with King Abdullah, with Foreign Minister Judeh over the course of the last several months as these negotiations have gone on. And as – and of course, the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-On Committee has played an important role, hence part of the focus of his visit. I think —
QUESTION: Right, but that wasn’t my – (laughter) —
MS. PSAKI: I understand, but I just wanted to repeat that.
QUESTION: I was just pointing out the – that while the Secretary was there —
MS. PSAKI: I understand. I’m getting there.
MS. PSAKI: I think, Matt, we’re – we’ve all been clear that we’re at a pivotal point in these negotiations, that there’s no greater evidence of that than the fact that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas are both here within weeks of each other to have meetings with President Obama. And we fully expected – I should say the Secretary fully expected that as we reached a point where there was a discussion about highly contested issues, about issues that have decades if not longer years of history, that there would be statements made, there would be concerning comments made by both sides. And we have seen that over the past couple of weeks. It’s not unexpected. We still firmly believe that both sides are committed to pursuing this process, and as you know, President Abbas has a meeting with President Obama in just about 10 days from now.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, being convinced that both sides are committed to pursuing a process is one thing, but being convinced that both sides are willing to make the compromises needed to get the process to actually accomplish anything is something that’s completely different. Explain to me how the last nearly eight months – seven months, to be more specific, have gotten the two sides – when you see comments like this from Abbas, explain to me how the last seven months of intense negotiations or intense U.S. involvement has brought, in this case, the Palestinian side any closer to reaching a deal or to even reaching a framework. Because if the framework we’re going to have is lay out all these things and then each side is going to say, “Well, we reject completely this, this, this, and this,” which are all issues that you know have to be compromised on, I just – I don’t understand what you have done, where you have gotten in the process.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I know to the frustration of you and many others we haven’t laid out a day-by-day update on what progress has been made behind the scenes. We do feel progress has been made, otherwise we wouldn’t still be engaged in the process. Of course at this point in the discussion, there’s going to be a debate about the most challenging issues, the most contested issues. And if you look at the issue of a Jewish state and whether Israel will be called a Jewish state, that’s been our position, as you know, for a long time, but that doesn’t reflect what the parties will agree to, which I know you know, and of course there are many issues like that that are being discussed as part of the framework.
So to us, it is not a surprise that at this pivotal point in the discussions, as we’re getting down to the later end of the nine-month timeframe, there would be heated rhetoric and language by both sides about what they are and aren’t willing to make compromises about.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t think that an abject refusal to even consider compromise on either of those two issues means that they won’t, in the end, end up compromising?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, we will see where we land. As the Secretary has said many times, it’s like a mosaic. There are compromises about give-and-take on a range of issues, and we’ll see where we land at the end.
QUESTION: So, wait, wait, the last – just the last one on this. So you don’t find his comments particularly concerning?
MS. PSAKI: We’re —
QUESTION: Or are you concerned about them?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think we don’t find comments by either side surprising expressing concerns or their political challenges on a variety of the issues that are being discussed. Our focus is on moving the discussion forward.
QUESTION: Can I just quickly follow up —
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: — on the issue of the capital? The capital, apparently in the framework agreement, designates an area called Beit Hanina, which is really closer to Ramallah than it is to Jerusalem. We don’t know how that came about. So in your opinion, should the Palestinians accept an area that is not really part – historically a part of East Jerusalem as their capital of Jerusalem?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I’m not going to go down this road with you —
QUESTION: Okay. But is this —
MS. PSAKI: — or negotiate here from the podium on the details.
QUESTION: Okay. And on the issue of the Jewish state —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — I don’t know if you looked at, let’s say, the Haaretz editorial today. And they lay out how the Palestinians have already recognized Israel time and time again – Arafat did; Abbas did; the PNC, which is the Palestine National Council, did and so on – that in fact have done everything in terms of recognizing the state, as it has been recognized by every other state. So do you – will you insist in this framework agreement that the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I just addressed this, but our position —
QUESTION: But —
MS. PSAKI: — let me finish – our position, as you know, has been for quite some time —
MS. PSAKI: — that Israel is the Jewish – that Israel is a Jewish state. That doesn’t reflect, of course, what the parties are going to agree to.
MS. PSAKI: That’s our view. So I’m not going to get ahead of where we are. It’s not about demands. The parties have to agree to what will be in a framework and what will be a part of the path forward for negotiations.
QUESTION: Okay. But why is it the responsibility of the Palestinians to recognize Israel different than any other state that already recognizes Israel? I mean, Israel can be a Jewish state or whatever it wants to call itself, as the Palestinians say, but in terms of recognizing Israel, they will do what the United States has done or what France has done or what Britain has done. They are willing to do that. Why should they do it differently?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure I follow your question completely.
QUESTION: Okay. My question to you is: Why the Palestinians are obligated to recognize Israel as a Jewish state when all the other states that have relations with Israel and have recognized Israel since day one did not do the same?
MS. PSAKI: No one is talking about an obligation. We’re talking about a discussion and what’s being compromised as part of a discussion on a framework for negotiations.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. So you don’t see this as a precondition, then?
MS. PSAKI: I think I’m done with your line of questioning.
QUESTION: Do you see it as a precondition?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you see it as a precondition?
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead. I think we’re moving on. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just following up on this – both lines of questioning, the issue is, is that Netanyahu has called it a minimal requirement for peace, and as Matt mentioned, Abbas just said he in “no way” would consider calling Israel a Jewish state. So I think what the real question is, is because that gap is so large, do you, the U.S., recognize the importance of this one issue for the continuation of negotiations for even a framework? Because when you say that you’re working on a framework for —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: — the continuation of negotiations, surely if they can’t agree on that one issue, what’s the point of —
MS. PSAKI: Well, the negotiations have not been concluded. There isn’t a final framework. And it’s not about what’s important to the United States. It’s about what’s important to both parties. They have different priorities that are important to both parties. They’re discussing those now. But I’m not going to litigate it further in public.
QUESTION: Well, but how do you feel about the fact that they are litigating it in public and saying that – again, one is saying it’s a minimal requirement for peace, fundamental to the agreement on the peace accord, and the other is saying we absolutely won’t do it. They’re – this isn’t in private. They’re doing it in public.
MS. PSAKI: Well, negotiations are about discussing the issues where you disagree. So we’ll let those continue and we’ll see where we end on the end.
QUESTION: Is the framework completed? Did you complete it?
MS. PSAKI: If you – if we did, you’d know, wouldn’t we – wouldn’t you?
QUESTION: Yeah, because some press reports said that —
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)
QUESTION: — the President gave a copy of it to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Secretary gave a copy to Mr. Erekat.
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of reports out there. There’s a range of options, a range of paper. So I would caution you from believing everything you read. There’s no document that the sides have both agreed to, and if there was, you would know.
QUESTION: So —
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Go ahead, Samir.
MS. PSAKI: Did you have another one?
QUESTION: Will you present the framework in a written document, or it’s going to be a verbal —
MS. PSAKI: Well, I expect there would be something that would be public if the sides agree to a framework.
QUESTION: What was the urgency behind Secretary Kerry’s sort of detour into Aqaba to meet with the King of Jordan?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, you know because you don’t see me here that often, but that he enjoys the personal diplomacy and spending time in person, discussing and negotiating tough issues. And there are a range of issues we work with Jordan on. Certainly Middle East peace is one of them.
QUESTION: So the framework on the Middle East, will it be entirely public?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ll cross that entire bridge when we get to it, Michael. Do we have —
QUESTION: Enjoys the personal diplomacy? That’s why he’s coming?
MS. PSAKI: He thinks it’s effective.
QUESTION: He thinks it’s useful, or it’s a matter of enjoyment?
MS. PSAKI: Yes, and he enjoys it as well. Both.
QUESTION: New subject.
MS. PSAKI: Do we have any more on Middle East peace?
QUESTION: I got one.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: When the Secretary announced the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, was it his hope that they would have an actual peace agreement by April 29th?
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s what he said at the time, yes.
QUESTION: And is it fair to say that he has abandoned that hope by that deadline and that what he is now aiming for is the framework for negotiations by that date?
MS. PSAKI: No, it’s not.
QUESTION: So he still hopes to get an agreement by the 29th of April?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus here, Arshad, is on the framework for negotiations, which will outline the path forward for both parties.
MS. PSAKI: When we reach that point, if we reach that point, we’ll determine what the next steps are.
QUESTION: But does he still hope to achieve a peace agreement by – within the nine-month timeframe?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, if there’s a framework that’s reached, it would take some time to agree on a final-status agreement. But beyond that, we’re taking this week by week, and we’ll see where we are if there’s a framework and when there’s a framework.
QUESTION: Why wouldn’t he hope to get a peace agreement by that date?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I know you know from covering many of these in the past that historically, the – a full treaty, which has a lot of legal components, is a lengthy document, can take a significant amount of time. So that’s not something that you can typically put together overnight. But again, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, when there’s a framework.
QUESTION: Well, is it not – is the correct answer not, “Yes, he hopes that he can still meet that target date that was originally set but that just given the way things are, that is becoming less realistic” —
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s not as —
QUESTION: — “to meet the target”?
MS. PSAKI: Sure. I was trying to give kind of a more nuanced answer in the sense that if there’s a framework, it’s not – historically, there is no final-status agreement, no treaty that’s been agreed to in the course of days. So, no, that would be challenging —
MS. PSAKI: — with the timing. So – but we’re focused on the framework. We’ll see where we land and what the next steps are.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:15 p.m.)
DPB # 42